For people who have tried perhaps multiple times to quit smoking, the electronic cigarette may seem like the answer to a prayer.

The cigarette, which is not lit but battery operated, uses an atomizer that heats a m lange of liquids, nicotine, and flavorings into an inhaled mist. But is this relatively new device (introduced about a decade ago) a miracle cure or simply a different way for smokers to get their fix?

A recent study out of the University of Auckland in New Zealand found that electronic cigarettes, or e cigarettes, may play a role in helping people quit smoking, but that role may be limited. In this study, 657 hopeful quitters were given either e cigarettes, nicotine patches (a more established smoking cessation therapy), or placebos designed to look like e cigarettes. Researchers followed the participants for several months and found that the e cigarette users did indeed manage to quit smoking at a higher rate than the others 7.3 percent of e cigarette users had given up cigarettes by the end of the study versus 5.8 percent of those using the nicotine patch and 4.1 percent of those using placebos. The differences are not considered statistically significant however, by the end of the study e cigarette users who had not quit completely did say they smoked fewer cigarettes than before.

Proceed With Caution

While e cigarettes may indeed be a useful tool in the quest to quit smoking, caution is advised. According to the Food and Drug Administration, the safety of e cigarettes has not been established. It’s not known how much nicotine and other chemicals users inhale while “vaping” (the term for inhaling the vapors emitted by these cigarettes). According to William E. Randall, MD, medical director of The Lung Center at Lutherville Personal Physicians, part of Mercy Medical Center in Maryland, “E cigarettes may cause short term irritation to the airways. Although the irritation isn’t unlikely to cause any serious airway damage when e cigarettes are used for a limited period, they can be harmful if the user is hypersensitive to them.” Furthermore, he added, “The loss of pulmonary function for e cigarettes seems to be considerably less than that associated with regular cigarettes.”

There also is concern that the mist created by these cigarettes may be inhaled second hand by others. The FDA plans to implement regulations requiring the more than 200 companies that produce e cigarettes to provide complete ingredient lists. It also may act to prevent companies from marketing e cigarettes to minors, as there is concern that more young people are turning to e cigarettes not only as an alternative to traditional cigarettes but also as a companion to them. As many of the major tobacco companies are just now joining the e cigarette fray, anti cancer experts are hoping that these big name manufacturers will work to improve the quality of e cigarettes and reduce the amount of contaminants in them.

William E. Randall, MD, reviewed this article.


American Cancer Society
“Study Compares E Cigarettes to Quit Smoking,” Web. Accessed 22 October 2013

U.S. Food and Drug Administration
“Electronic Cigarettes,” Web. Accessed 21 October 2013

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